My preschooler wanted to dance. At the children’s museum, he tugged a pink tutu over his sweatpants, donned too-large tap shoes, and tried to imitate the moves on the instructional video. For his birthday, he requested a dance costume and ballet slippers.
Clearly, I have done something right, raising a child whose gender-identification knows no hard and fast boundaries. He is a free spirit, a maverick, a dude who is comfortable enough in his dudeliness to want to dance his ass off.
We signed him up for dance class, an “enrichment” that an outside vendor provided at his preschool just before the Tuesday afternoon preschool class began. He was the only boy, but Benjamin had never had a problem in any group activity. He is an exuberant joiner in whatever the grown-ups have planned, always happy to play soccer or spin hoops or glue sparkly doodads onto picture frames. There was no reason to assume dance would be any exception.
The first day, the teacher looked at me. “You know he’s the only boy.”
“Doesn’t bother me,” I replied. “I don’t think it will bother him, either.” And it didn’t. That first day, he enjoyed class well enough, and when I picked him up after his preschool day, he told me he had practiced arabesques. Granted, his version of the elegant ballet move was a little different from what I found online, but, hell, he was enjoying himself.
We bought him some jazz shoes, since all the girls had pink ballet slippers. We’d have gotten him ballet shoes, if we could have found any in size 10, extra wide.
He went into the second class cheerfully. As I put on his shoes, the teacher came over. “You know he won’t be doing the ballet in the recital.”
“He can do all the dances in class, but in the recital he will do the boys’ program.” Now, that might have made sense to her, but I couldn’t figure out how he was going to do the boys’ program since he was the only boy. Nor was I quite sure why it was that ballet is only for girls. Yet, the more I tried to wrangle an explanation, the more I became confused.
“Just tell me why it is he’s not allowed to do all the dances,” I asked about three minutes into the conversation.
“Because if dads hear their sons are doing ballet, they freak out,” she said, not for the first time. “We’ve worked too long and too hard to build up a boys’ program.” Well, obviously it was working out beautifully, given that they now had a grand total of one boy in the class.
“So, he’s going to dance by himself?”
“No, some of the girls will do the boys’ program with him.” Oh, now that made perfect sense. He couldn’t do ballet, but the girls could do the boys’ program.
I’d have continued the conversation, despite the vertigo it was giving me, but my kid started crying. I am not sure if he was upset because she had been saying all this crap right in front of him or because her assistant had just called out, “OK, girls, follow me.” We cut off the conversation and I knelt down, because now Benjamin needed convincing to stay in the class.
I caught up with her later. “Look,” I said. “This is not 1956. Why can’t he do all the dances?”
She gave me the line about working hard to build up a boys’ program.
“Well,” I replied. “I’ve worked too long and too hard to convince my boys that they can do anything a girl can do. And, also, do you think you could remind your assistants not to refer to all the students as ‘girls’?”
That night, my husband and I decided that, as long as the child would be getting equal stage time, we wouldn’t make a fuss. And, the next week, I marched on in, ready to stand by my man, all 37 pounds of him.
Except he didn’t want to stay in class. “I don’t want to sit next to the girls,” he told me. Now, you must understand that I read Ms. Magazine and Bitch. There was no earthly was I was going to stand by while my child quit dance class simply because there were no other boys in it. I tried to convince him to stay.
“Sometimes I do things when I’m the only woman,” I told him. “If you like to dance, you should stay.”
“I don’t want to dance,” he whimpered, looking out on the sea of pink tulle before him.
The assistants were trying to call the room to order. “Quiet down, girls!” they commanded, oblivious to the p-nis in their midst. Or perhaps trying to drive its owner away.
I pulled one outside. “Do you think you could stop referring to the kids as ‘girls’? He’s a boy, and he’s kind of sensitive about being the only one.” She gave me the old whatsyourpoint stare and headed back in. That probably should have been my cue to leave, but I didn’t want to give my kid the message that we’re down with quitting.
I convinced him to stay and just watch the class. I figured the teacher would reach out to him after a few minutes and try to draw him in.
Yeah. Not so much. She had her girls to attend to.
When I peeked in a few minutes later, he was sitting by the side, watching while she led the girls through the routine. “Now, turn around. Step to the side. Fix your hair.”
Whoa, Nellie. Hold the phone. Fix your hair? Fix your hair? That’s the dance move?
No fucking wonder he didn’t want to be in the damned class. I didn’t want him there. Nor, for the record, would I want his sister in a class like that. Dance is about art and grace and exercise and hopefully becoming aware enough of your body to stop walking into walls. It is not, unless I missed the memo, about fluffing one’s hair.
Well, folks, apparently I did miss the memo, because when I called the director of the program, he patiently explained to me that Benjamin should never have been allowed in the class because they segregate the boys and girls into separate classes. Since there were no other boys, there was no boys’ class offered, so he should not have been allowed to join in at all.
In the process of ripping him a brand new anus, I asked why it is exactly that they segregate the boys and girls. “Because boys don’t do girly moves,” he patiently explained to me, as if that just made everything OK.
It goes without saying that our refund check is in the mail. And our daughter will never do this dance program.
But I am left wondering what has happened to us, the Free to Be You and Me generation? Things were supposed to be all fixed by the time we raised our children. Instead, it all seems even worse than when we were little. When did it become OK that all the shoes in the toddler girls section are pink, so that in order to find my daughter brown shoes I needed to buy the ones marked “boys”? When did we decide we were fine with the toy marketers informing us that two-year-old girls and two-year-old boys like to play with different things? Hell, they aren’t even potty trained yet – they have no idea what their p-nises and v@ginas are for, let alone that that anatomical difference has marked them for a lifetime of gendering.
Why aren’t people mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore? Because I sure am. But I’m also very, very sad.
Because my boy now thinks that dance is only for girls.